Southern Miss nearly flipped the script on Nebraska.
One week after storming back from 23 points down the fourth quarter to force overtime in a loss at Miami, the Huskers surrendered three late touchdowns in less than seven minutes, holding on for a 36-28 win Saturday over the Golden Eagles at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska (2-2) jumped to a 22-0 halftime lead on five field goals by Drew Brown and a defensive effort that held Southern Miss to minus-14 rushing yards in the opening two quarters. But Nick Mullens threw for for 331 yards in the second half, finishing with 447 against a maligned Nebraska secondary to keep the outcome in doubt until the final second.
After Brown missed a 24-yard field goal with 29 seconds to play, Mullens hit Casey Martin for gains of 19 and 21 yards to reach the Nebraska 40-yard line. Defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun then sacked Mullens. The clock expired before Southern Miss could attempt a Hail Mary.
What the win means for Nebraska: More stress. The Huskers escaped against an inferior opponent, getting 368 yards on 23-of-35 passing from Tommy Armstrong Jr. On one hand, the Huskers aren’t far from 4-0, losing on the final play against BYU and Miami. Conversely, Nebraska enters Big Ten play next week at Illinois with a secondary in something close to disarray, threatening to derail progress made in other areas under first-year coach Mike Riley.
What the loss means for Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles failed to duplicate their 2004 victory in Lincoln, but the effort in coming back confirms the continued progress under third-year coach Todd Monken. Southern Miss enters play in Conference USA at 2-2 with competitive showings against Nebraska and Mississippi State to buoy confidence.
Unsung hero: Nebraska fullback Andy Janovich rushed five times for 68 yards and caught one pass for 53. Prior to Saturday, the senior from Gretna, Nebraska, had rushed three times in his career for 6 yards. Janovich, a special-teams star, did everything Saturday but score. Actually, he did reach the end zone on a 15-yard run in the fourth quarter, but it was called back for a holding penalty on receiver Alonzo Moore. The Huskers need a physical presence in their run game. And while Janovich likely won’t get as much work as he did on Saturday on a regular basis, he adds an nice element to the offense.
Uh, what? Nebraska cornerback Joshua Kalu was flagged for pass interference on a fourth-and-13 throw by Mullens to Martin with seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter. The Golden Eagles got a nice acting performance from Martin, who flopped to the ground after minimal contact as Kalu intercepted the pass near the goal line. Kalu was also flagged for a personal foul after he spiked the football, giving Southern Miss a first down at the 1. The Golden Eagles scored on the next play, cutting Nebraska’s lead to the final margin of eight points.